Saturday, January 16, 2021

Review: Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

In our world now, with contrails crisscrossing the sky and flights departing constantly for near and far, it can be hard to remember the danger and novelty and glamor of early flight, the way that pilots like Lindbergh and Earhart were bigger than movie stars. They were impossibly brave and reckless and completely fascinating people, daredevils, these pioneers of aviation. Beatriz Williams takes readers back to this time, when pilots kept trying to fly farther, faster, or longer than they had before, topping each others' and their own feats as splashed across newspaper headlines around the world in her novel Her Last Flight.

In 1947, Janey Everett, a photojournalist is writing a book about the famous pilot Sam Mallory, missing in the Spanish Civil War. Opening with her quiet discovery of the wreckage of his plane in the Spanish desert and a chance line in his journal found in the plane, Janey is off to find the one person who can tell her the truth of what happened in that wreck, a person also long missing. Irene Lindquist and her husband Olle run an island hopping airline in Hawa'ii. Janey suspects that this Irene is Irene Foster, once Sam Mallory's student and flying partner and a famous aviatrix in her own right but Mrs. Lindquist is taciturn and evasive and a lot less than welcoming, even initially denying this identity. Janey continues to dig though and the women come to a sort of tentative truce as Irene slowly tells her own incredible story and how it weaves into Sam Mallory's.

Told in chapters alternating between the 1947 present and the book that Janey is writing, this is that rare novel where both threads of the narrative are gripping. The tension between Janey and Irene is palpable and the reader wonders what all is being held back by these two fiercely private women while the chapters out of Janey's book in progress work toward uncovering the mystery of Sam's fate that Janey is so determined to bring to light. This is a story of complicated relationships, of fame, loss, and love. Both Janey and Irene are strong women who have succeeded in men's occupations. Each guards herself carefully, allowing very few people to see behind their protective exteriors. The secondary characters are well drawn and engaging, rounding out the lives of these women, illustrating parts of our main characters that the reader would not otherwise see. The novel is smooth and while filled with drama, it is not a showy kind of drama, more a quiet, personal cost sort. There are, of course, echoes of Earhart's life and final flight but Irene (and Sam) are entirely Williams' own and the story is well conceived. Readers fascinated by the human beings behind early aviation will delight in this well researched and well written novel.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me this book for review.

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